Ben Stiller has an important PSA for men: Ask your doctor for a PSA test because it could save your life, like it did his.
In an essay for Medium published Tuesday, the actor/writer/director says that he was diagnosed with prostate cancer two years ago. The piece was published following an appearance on Howard Stern's SiriusXM show Tuesday morning where he and his doctor, Edward Schaeffer, discussed his diagnosis publicly for the first time in the hope that men will start getting tested younger than the standard age of 50.
Stiller shared that his doctor decided to include the Prostate Specific Antigen test among his bloodwork during an annual physical when he was 46, even though he didn't have a family history of protstate cancer and wasn't considered part of an at-risk group.
Stiller's PSA levels continued to rise over the next two years, so his internist referred him to a urologist, who ordered a MRI, which confirmed the presence of a tumor and a biopsy to check whether or not the mass was malignant. In June 2014, he learned his tumor was cancerous.
"I had a Gleason score of 7 (3+4), which is categorized 'mid-range aggressive cancer,'" he recalls "Surgery was recommended."
In between doctor appointments, Stiller says he began hitting Google to learn about his illness and to see who else had it. "John Kerry… Joe Torre … Excellent, both still going strong. Mandy Patinkin… Robert DeNiro. They’re vital."
One thing he learned? "Not to Google 'people who died of prostate cancer' immediately after being diagnosed with prostate cancer)."
But he came to realize he was lucky because thanks to his internist's decision to do the "better-safe-than-sorry" PSA test, his cancer was caught early enough to treat, Schaeffer performed a robotic-assisted laparoscopic radical prostatectomy and Stiller was able to sidestep radiation and other "over-treatment" that can result in impotence or incontinence.
Three months after the surgery, Stiller's tests came back cancer-free. Two years later, that's still the case.
"If he had waited, as the American Cancer Society recommends, until I was 50," Stiller says, "I would not have known I had a growing tumor until two years after I got treated. If he had followed the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force guidelines, I would have never gotten tested at all, and not have known I had cancer until it was way too late to treat successfully."
Although he acknowledges that the USPSTF is in the process of updating its 2012 recommendation against PSA testing, Stiller writes, "I think men over the age of 40 should have the opportunity to discuss the test with their doctor and learn about it, so they can have the chance to be screened. After that, an informed patient can make responsible choices as to how to proceed."
"This is a complicated issue, and an evolving one. But in this imperfect world, I believe the best way to determine a course of action for the most treatable, yet deadly cancer, is to detect it early."